June 11, 2019
Please note: To the extent there are opinions expressed in these posts, they are mine or others and do not necessarily reflect the position or opinions of The Partnership for Prosperity.
When Jerry McLeese and I set out on our private inquiry into the extent and impact of poverty in Winston-Salem, the very first thing we did was select forty prominent men and women from government, business and industry, the religious community, not-for-profits, health and medicine, education and the arts and sciences sectors to interview. We then interviewed 28 of them before Jerry’s health made it impossible for him to maintain any schedule.
We then decided we would survey them about their opinions on causes of and what activities should be undertaken to ameliorate poverty. We constructed a weighted average survey, that is each of the activities listed under the five categories – Winston-Salem Public Schools, Poverty/Social Mobility, Hunger, Transportation, and Crime – were to be ranked from one to five in order of priority. We then selected twenty out of our twenty-eight to survey, dropping eight so no one sector was overrepresented. Ten were returned. Almost all of the ten completed the entire survey and most made thoughtful comments. One even wrote a mini white-paper.
The survey was anonymous, so we don’t know (for sure) who returned them and who didn’t. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because this was a highly selective audience and we make no claim that it is representative and there is nothing statistically valid about it. What it is is an attitudinal intensity survey of a highly selective universe. We wanted to gain an insight into what ten people who have dealt with poverty and its impact in some way, shape or form felt were the causes of those issues we identified and the most important things to do to fight poverty. Moreover, we wanted to determine if there was a certain consistency among the ten in how they ranked the activities. It would be fair to consider this type of a survey as a focus group on paper, with all the advantages and limitations of that type of research. It that regard, it can be considered only as diagnostic.
One of the more interesting outcomes of the survey and the Listening Sessions sponsored by The Partnership for Prosperity is that “Transportation” ranks as a matter of significance affecting poverty because it “cuts across all other issues” and yet did not appear among the 56 recommendations made by the Poverty Thought Force several years ago. The relative high ranking among the survey participants suggests that this is now an issue everyone is aware of and feels needs to be addressed. As a priority for The Partnership for Prosperity, it would appear that “out of the box” solutions should be pursued. (See Transportation below.) The potential for minority entrepreneurship or for Not-For-Profits to address transportation needs appears to have considerable support.
Transportation has emerged as one of the biggest issues in dealing with the effects of poverty. The motive behind adding this to the survey was to better understand the impact of the changes in the routing and waiting times as a result of recent decisions by the Transit Authority and public reactions to those changes. On the other hand, the importance of having a dependable bus service for getting to work on time and doing the other daily chores cannot be ignored and was clearly critical to those without other means of transportation.
Our survey offered five reasons why the current system may not be meeting the needs of all those in poverty. The system is funded in part by federal grants and tax dollars, which are not likely to increase dramatically in the short term, so budgeting issues were not directly included as a way of offering an immediate solution.
The greatest cause of transportation dysfunction (#1) has little to do with routing or timing of the bus service, and, according to our survey group, mostly to do with the Expense of maintaining personal vehicles, which then creates a dependency on the bus system. This finding was closely followed ( #2, with a two point differential) by Absence of entrepreneurs to address need (providing smaller buses, more direct routes to employment clusters, more frequent intervals). We assumed this means there should be less reliance on the bus system as presently structured and more public/private resources made available to entrepreneurs willing to try “outside the box” solutions, such as Uber-type systems, financing Not-for-Profit bus operations, etc.
These two findings far outweighed (more than a five point differential) the other findings, which tended to support the top two findings:
Some of the survey respondents added comments about Transportation to the survey.
“Transportation deficiencies are well documented. There is a lack of will to fix the problem.”
“W-S built a bus system that focuses primarily on moving poor people to low wage work places. The system was not designed to serve all populations in our community. That, and so much of our public infrastructure, is designed to serve people in cars – drive thrus- malls, shopping centers with huge parking lots.”
“This should be so easy to solve in an era when I can summon a ride anywhere, any time, but it remains a huge part of the challenge we face in transforming our community. We need creativity and community will to change this but it can be done. It’s maybe the easiest one to really fix if we throw some resources at it. WSSU has done research that shows that regular bus riders spend 4-5 times as much time commuting as do those of us who own cars. They also have determined that there is a measurable limitation on upward income mobility when better jobs happen to be off the bus route. Adding buses is not the answer, although doubling routes would help people use buses in a way that comes closer to meeting the requirement of our car-oriented culture. Another option is to use ride-sharing services like Uber to provide “first-mile/last-mile” transportation vouchers to those with limited resources. You could ride to the bus stop and from the bus stop to work, doctor, kid’s daycare, etc.”
“Obviously a “free market” opinion. (Note: This responder selected Absence of entrepreneurs to address the need as one of his highest priorities to address the issue of transportation.)
© 2019 WD Publishing